Celebrating the power of poetry in the lives of ordinary Kansans

Let us share your story of what a poem you love has meant to your life in Kansas. Whether you’re a truck driver, farmer, student, nurse or  teacher, Poetry Unites Kansas invites you to tell how a poem has changed your thinking, explained your feelings, captured your imagination or touched your heart.






"Poetry Unites Kansas" initiated the Poetry Unites America series, taking the country's pulse from its very center. Poetry Unites New York followed. Presently, two other Midwestern states are lined up for production: Kentucky and Ohio.


In 2018, the half-hour Poetry Unites Kansas and Poetry Unites New York films were created.
The film about NY State was broadcast on local PBS channels on April 8th, 2019.

Watch the documentary here. The Poetry Unites Kansas film is expected to premiere on the PBS ALL ARTS broadcast channel in April 2020.


The State Poet Laureate of Kentucky, Jeff Worley, was born in Wichita, Kansas, and became interested in the project after watching "Poetry Unites Kansas."  He agreed not only to endorse but also to actively participate in the project because, as he wrote:


"This film felt like home to me. I’m a native Kansan, born and raised in Wichita. I went through the public schools there, then on to Wichita State, where I earned a B.A. in English and in 1975 an MFA in poetry (I was the second graduate of that then-brand-new program). Please come to Kentucky"!


In Ohio, a great supporter of the project is Dave Lucas, the current State Poet Laureate. The conclusion of his term as the Ohio Poet Laureate at the end of this year will afford him more time to increase his involvement in Poetry Unites Ohio. He wrote:


"No matter the time and distance that separate us, Poetry Unites indeed unites us.
I hope you will join me in supporting this important project".


We will inform you of developments in the "Poetry Unites America" series.





The Poetry Unites Kansas panel of distinguished judges is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 Poetry Unites Kansas contest for the best short essay about a favorite poem. Congratulations to the winners of the contest, which was open to all Kansas residents.

The following finalists were also selected to receive Honorable Mentions to recognize the high quality of their essay submissions:

The members of the jury were deeply impressed by the large number of thoughtful and well-written essays that were submitted to the contest from writers throughout Kansas, making the task of selecting winners all the more difficult. On behalf of the jury, the advisory board and the contest sponsors, we therefore extend our sincere appreciation to all of the writers who participated in the contest and gave it meaning with your stories, insights and ideas.







Poetry Unites Kansas is a statewide essay contest and documentary film project that is dedicated to discovering and celebrating the power of poetry in the lives of ordinary Kansans.


The project brings together an international team of filmmakers and nationally recognized American literary figures, supported by leading Kansas cultural and business organizations, to create a unique documentary portrait of the life of the mind in the heart of America.


Conceived and directed by Polish-born writer and filmmaker Ewa Zadrzynska, Poetry Unites was inspired by the Favorite Poem Project of former United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. The series was launched in Europe with the support of the Belgium-based Evens Foundation, and has won international acclaim for its distinctive short documentaries about the influence of poetry on everyday lives in places as diverse as Aalen, Germany, and Little Falls, New York.


Poetry Unites has been brought to Kansas and made possible through the sponsorship of Uhlig LLC, a Kansas-based high-technology publishing company that is committed to advancing the essential public interest in the arts, information and science. The contest is presented in collaboration with the Kansas Poet Laureate, the Kansas Humanities Council, the Kansas Press Association, Academy of American Poets and scholars, poets, educators and journalists throughout Kansas and the bi-state Kansas City metropolitan region.



Poetry Unites Kansas is open to all Kansas residents of every age, and invites each participant to submit a 600-word essay describing the influence that a specific poem has had on his or her life.


Essays will be reviewed by a jury of five prominent poets, writers and educators, who will choose a group of ten Finalists. Three Finalists will then be selected as subjects of video documentaries that will be presented at special gala screenings in Overland Park, Kansas, and in New York City.



All participants will receive an autographed copy of Edward Hirsch's bestselling book, How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry.


Participants who are selected as Finalists will receive a special commemorative award, and their essays will be published in the contest program that will be presented at the gala screenings.


Finalists who are chosen as documentary subjects will receive transportation and lodging for themselves and a guest to attend the screening in Overland Park, where each of them will be recognized and invited to read their chosen poem.



Essays submitted for the contest may be written in any style or form, but the poem described in the essay should be written by a published poet whose work is available to the general public.


The essay should touch upon three topics: 1) What is your favorite poem, who wrote it, and when did you first read it? 2) Why is this poem important to you? and 3) What does your day look like, what are your dreams, and how does your chosen poem relate to your life?


Submissions should be sent electronically by May 15, 2017, to, or they may be mailed in hard-copy form to:


Poetry Unites Kansas

c/o Uhlig LLC

8455 Lenexa Drive

Overland Park, KS 66214.



The key dates for Poetry Unites Kansas are:


May 15, 2017:

May 31, 2017:

June-September 2017:

October 2017:




Poetry Unites Kansas is a collaboration among many talented writers, filmmakers, journalists, sponsors and educators. The leaders of the project team are:

Essays due

Finalists announced

Video production

Gala screenings, Kansas and New York City

(details to be announced)

Ewa Zadrzynska, Director

An acclaimed Polish-born writer and filmmaker, Ewa is the author of numerous essays, short stories and children's books. In 2006, in collaboration with the Belgium-based Evens Foundation, she created the series Poetry Unites, bringing everyday people together through poetry. She lives in New York City.

Mark A. Uhlig, Executive Producer

A native of Wichita, Kansas, Mark is chief executive officer of Uhlig LLC. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, he formerly served as an editor and foreign correspondent for The New York Times, where he was chief of the Times' bureaus in Managua, Nicaragua and Mexico City.


"For the past year and a half, I’ve driven all across Kansas as poet laureate. And everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve met people who care about poetry and who have a favorite poem — farmers, firefighters, nurses, teachers, truck drivers, students, waiters, painters, retirees, and children. Are you a Kansan with a favorite poem? Something you say to yourself on difficult days? Words that speak to you so profoundly they seem to be speaking for you? We want you to share that poem, and your love of it, with us. In 600 words or fewer, tell us why that poem is your poem, and why your life is better because of it."


Eric McHenry

Poet Laureate of Kansas


All essays submitted to Poetry Unites Kansas will be read and voted upon by a
distinguished panel of professional writers, editors, critics, and scholars, with input
from a Board of Advisors. The contest judges include:


A celebrated poet and peerless advocate for poetry,  who has written a bestseller about poetry and has published nine books of poems.


Eric is the 2015-2017 Poet Laureate
of Kansas and is a nationally known poet and associate professor of English at Washburn University.


Candice is a former writer and editor for National Geographic magazine and bestselling author of The River of Doubt, Destiny of the Republic, and Hero of the Empire.


Author of The Perfect Mother and
An African Affair, Nina Darnton was also a journalist for 30 years. She has lived and worked in Nigeria, Kenya, and Spain.


A respected book critic and Ernest Hemingway scholar, Steve was a longtime columnist, arts and culture editor, and editorial board member at the Kansas City Star.

Uhlig LLC is proud to sponsor Poetry Unites Kansas,

showcasing the breadth and depth of intellectual life

that our state—and every community—has to offer

 to those who are willing to look for it.

Uhlig LLC is a leading provider of cross-media publishing and communication services in industries ranging from residential housing to book publishing to cancer care. With a deep respect for traditional editorial values, and a powerful platform of proprietary technologies, we are redefining the boundaries of consumer, business and medical communication.


8455 Lenexa Drive  •  Overland Park, KS 66214  •  Phone: 913-725-1000